They may be devilishly convenient, but our mass use of wet wipes is causing big problems for the environment. They make up an eye-watering 93% of the material in the fatbergs clogging up our sewers, and the government is finally taking action as part of its war against plastic waste.
Its crusade includes cracking down on "single-use products like wet wipes", the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said today. Most wipes contain non-biodegradable plastics such as polyester and other non-biodegradable materials, and could take up to 100 years to break down.
The government hopes this will encourage wet-wipe manufacturers to create flushable plastic-free versions and/or recyclable alternatives. In the meantime, it's encouraging people not to flush them down the loo and to "dispose of them properly", but this doesn't solve the main problem as wipes aren't biodegradable in the first place.
Environmental group Thames21 recently revealed the extent of wet wipe pollution when it counted the highest number of them in a single spot in the UK. In one 116-square-metre stretch of foreshore off the Thames by Hammersmith Bridge, there were a staggering 5,453 wipes.
We're overjoyed to hear the Government promising tough action on wet wipes after we exposed their impact on the Thames riverbed. None of this would have been possible without YOU, helping us collect the key data! https://t.co/FUUhJDVdK0 #BinDontFlush #plasticpollution pic.twitter.com/rDNQR8thRA— Thames21 (@Thames21) May 8, 2018
Unless biodegradable alternatives become more widely available, consumers may have to go without wet wipes in future, which might prove tricky for those of us who have come to rely on them – parents of young children, makeup wearers who swear by them (in spite of skincare experts' advice), and festival-goers/campers who'd rather not wait in a two-hour queue for the showers.
Until then, here are some other ways to cleanse your face and body that won't clog up the sewage system or languish in landfill for a century.
Alternatives to wet wipes
• Eco-friendly face wipes do exist, but they're not as easy to come by and can be more expensive. Yes To Wipes are made with compostable fabric and are super affordable, while Faith In Nature's are also biodegradable, as are Ecocare's wipes. Consumers with more cash to splash should look at RMS Beauty's biodegradable wipes and Klorane's soothing makeup removal wipes.
Parents should look at brands like CannyMum (whose wipes are biodegradable and made from 100% bamboo fibre), Mum & You (biodegradable and made from "100% naturally derived fibres"), Jackson Reece (biodegradable and compostable), and Naty (compostable and made from "100% renewable plant based material").
• Muslin cloth. Skincare boffins swear by Liz Earle's Hot Cloth Cleanser, Cleanse & Polish which should be removed with a reusable cloth, and there are plenty more options where that came from.
• Micellar water and biodegradable cotton pads from brands like Organyc. They're more expensive than the ones you'd normally buy at the supermarket or high street pharmacy, but they're a straightforward way to make your cleansing routine more eco-friendly if you can afford it.
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